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DHS official says she was sidelined after warning about compliance issues

Plus: departing DOC official says complaint against her is about lobbying; environmental groups want Ellison to investigate PolyMet owner Glencore; U researchers say earthworms may be threatening state flower; and more.

The Star Tribune’s Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt report:A compliance officer at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) said she was the victim of retaliation after she raised alarms about the legality of contracts at the social services agency. Faye K. Bernstein, a lead contract specialist at DHS, said she was verbally reprimanded and sidelined from her duties after she pointed out ‘serious non-compliance issues’ with a group of contracts approved by leaders in the agency’s behavioral health division, which awards millions of dollars each year in contracts for mental health and substance use treatment and services.”

In the Pioneer Press, Dave Orrick reports, “A departing top official with the Minnesota Department of Corrections says she’s being investigated for improper lobbying on state time — an allegation she denies and calls ‘underhanded.’ Sarah Walker, who resigned Friday as deputy commissioner while she’s under investigation for unspecified complaints against her, issued a statement Monday that reads, in part: ‘The complaint alleges that I conducted private lobbying activities on state time, after my appointment to the DOC. Until this weekend I was unaware of the nature or origin of the complaint. As I have been quoted in the media since my resignation, that complaint played no role in my decision to leave.’  Walker also accused state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, of instigating at least part of the investigation by making a complaint against her.”

MPR’s Dan Kraker says: “More than two dozen environmental advocacy groups are asking Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate the relationship between prospective mine developer PolyMet and its new majority owner. After years of steadily acquiring a larger stake in PolyMet Mining, last month Switzerland-based Glencore acquired more than 70 percent of its stock. … The move raised red flags for environmental groups, who pointed to earlier human rights and environmental damage allegations at other Glencore mines around the world.”

From KSTP-TV, Leah McLean reports: “Researchers at the University of Minnesota say earthworms are threatening the state flower, the Lady’s Slipper. The researchers have been studying how earthworms impact forests around the state, and found that earthworms are changing the soil of the forest floor and those changes are threatening the Lady’s Slipper.”

Also from KSTP-TV, Beth McDonough reports: “A major excavation project is poised to begin at the long-shuttered Waste Disposal Engineering Landfill in Andover. … The WDE Landfill has been locked up and off limits since 1983. Back in its day, it was the only municipal dump that was permitted to take hazardous waste. People would drop off whatever they wanted to get rid of with no questions asked. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said 6,600 barrels of toxic waste was stored in a pit.  Environmental testing revealed the clay and asphalt lining of the pit was leaking and contaminating the groundwater with discarded paint, heavy metals and other volatile compounds.”

Says John Ewoldt in the Star Tribune, “Aldi is opening more new supermarkets than any other grocery chain in the Twin Cities. By the end of the year, it will have at least 70 Minnesota locations, closing in on Cub’s 77 stores in Minnesota. Next month the no-frills discount supermarket chain will open a store in Minneapolis near Uptown at W. 26th St. and S. Lyndale Avenue, and one in Richfield in the former Babies ‘R’ Us location at 900 W. 78th St. The Richfield store opens Aug. 14, with grand-opening activities on Aug. 15. The Minneapolis store opens Aug. 21 with a grand opening on Aug. 22.”

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In the Duluth News Tribune, Peter Passi says, “A proposed plan released Monday by the city of Duluth calls for a scenic railroad line to be replaced and retained as part of the pending cleanup of the former U.S. Steel mill site on the banks of the St. Louis River. Mayor Emily Larson’s administration earlier had advanced a proposal to shorten the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, converting a portion of it to a recreational trail, but project details outlined in a just-published environmental worksheet do not preclude the preservation of the popular volunteer-run line in its entirety.”

At Esquire, Charlie Pierce reacts to The New Yorker’s big Al Franken story:  “What makes [Jane] Mayer’s reporting valuable is that it establishes the entire political context. Franken was coming off a series of bravura performances in his role in questioning many of Camp Runamuck’s dubious hires during their confirmation hearings. … He had recently published a new book and there was more than a little talk about the possibility of his running for president in 2020. There were people in whose political and personal interest eliminating Franken from public life was considerable. As Mayer points out, Roger Stone seemed to have one of his ratfcking premonitions about what was coming, and the vast rightwing media apparatus seemed to be suspiciously well-prepared for the revelations.

About the same story, Slate Christina Cauterucci writes, “Nothing that Mayer debunks gets to the heart of why Franken resigned, or even really speaks to detractors’ interpretation of his behavior. For me, and for many others, the gleeful breast-fondling photo and the accretion of accusations from other women—including many of Franken’s political supporters—added up to a picture that justified Franken’s departure from political life. The fact that Franken had written a nonconsensual boob-grabbing pantomime into his skit before reenacting it in front of a camera while his costar was asleep doesn’t make his actions any more defensible.”